Chug-a-Lug Along With Me…

Chugging – or charity mugging if you’d like me to get etymological (it’s a portmanteau of “charity” and “mugger’) – is back in the ascendancy.

Skanky old meth addicts (well, that’s how they seem and behave) who steal eye contact and then (a few zany dance moves later) have moonwalked into your path with a cheeky request for ‘a quick 30 seconds’.

UK legislation on charity cash collections in public make for some strict rules – ‘tin rattlers’ must obtain a local council licence (or one from the police if in London) and there are a list of musts and must nots. For example, you must remain stationary, which means you can’t directly approach people. Furthermore, you must not position yourself somewhere which obstructs or endangers the public.

The modus operandi of the chugging industry however is that they don’t go for cash. They solicit Direct Debit sign-ups, which neatly bypasses the legislation which incidentally dates back to 1916. Yes, that’s how long pushy collectors have been pissing off the public.

How they slither past that piece of statutory obligation is that they are not collecting money but ‘promises for money at a later date’. And of course, we are talking hugely weightier donations. Instead of a one-off few quid being plonked into a bucket, you are talking LTV or lifetime value of donors. That’s one of the reasons why younger people are targeted. They live (and can donate) longer.

And of course, the collectors aren’t volunteers as are most of the actual tin-rattlers you see. They’re doing it for the commission. So, don’t be swayed by the empathetic patter for African children or cancer sufferers. These chuggers love only money – and lots of it.

So, is there any control over what they do and how they do it? Well, yes and no.

Of course, the long arm of the law will always reach out and feel those hemp collars if anyone flagrantly breaks the law. You know, if a collector threatens or assaults anybody.

And there is always the threat of bans from the owners of shopping areas if punters are annoyed to the point that they avoid the town centres and complain.

There is an organisation that covers inter alia chugging – The Institute of Street Fundraising. They of course have no power, but they do receive a lot of lip-service to their, ahem, best practices. Read no further than their opening salvo that states that chuggers should ‘… always tell the truth and take care not to exaggerate any facts relating to beneficiaries’.

Well, the typical opener of the chugwit of, ‘Have you got 30 seconds for a chat‘ is manifestly false in the collection scenario. It’s never going to be just 30 seconds and while it will be a chat, the word ‘chat’ is hardly the whole truth. It’s a bit like asking someone to step outside for chat and if they agree, then claiming they have consented in advance to a beating with a baseball bat.

The Fundraising Regulator (it’s actually regulated?) oversees compliance with the Fundraising Code (which is at least a nicely formatted document) and there is a penalty points scheme for collecting organisations who transgress. There are however no published records of transgressions, so it is impossible for us to ascertain how that particular jaunt is diddling along.

Because whatever regulations they have, they don’t seem to have impacted on the lived experience of the general public. And that is from what we all tend to draw our conclusions. Go for a walk around any town centre, and you’ll see collectors walking directly into the paths of pedestrians and calling out sarcastic comments (sometimes worse) to those passers-by who ignore them.

You could read the collections code for confirmation that this behaviour is not permitted, but if you spot that the regulator is an independent, non-statutory body, you’ll realise that nothing they do is binding on collection organisations. That probably explains a lot and is arguably why our shopping centres continue to be plagued by them. Though, to be fair, councils are looking to get in on the act, or rather the licensing act, and put a little muscle behind the regulatory framework.

Which, aha, will mean some lovely loot for them too.

Chuggers themselves will tell you that what they do helps those in need (well it does if you include the chuggers themselves and their venture-capital–backed employers). They will also assert that their constant interruption of your day equates to the same right of anyone to go about their business.

Next, we’ll be hearing from burglars that house alarms are a form of restrictive practice, but hey ho.

But seriously, they get in your face precisely because it gets enough of a result financially to be worth it. That’s why they are not just standing there with a collection box. And if the number of sign-ups hits their target, they won’t be taking any action to stem the flow of cash no matter how unscrupulous their actions are.

It’s why the dodgy methods are tacitly accepted. And then – predictably – the shyster practices go on to become embedded and reinforced. Their success is inextricably bound up with their aggression – or passive aggression – which is why the chugger name (and don’t they hate it) hits the bullseye.

And here’s one final thought. Naturally, charities have overheads and will always speculate to accumulate. But let this one sink in. A few years back, Unicef agreed to shovel out £1,303,731 to One Sixty Fundraising for a nationwide campaign, in the hope of raising £5.2million if donors continued to give for four years.

This was at the lower end of the scale of data secured by researchers, and it is estimated (and not challenged by charities) that it takes on average between 12 and 27 months for charities to start to make money from a new donor.

Let another one be absorbed for a moment. Because that’s a lot of third-party costs that you’ve covered with your direct debit there.

And here the donor does not continue to give to target, it is likely that 100% of what they do donate just goes to the collectors and their employers. 100%. And nothing to the charity.

And all the while, Kofi is still walking 10 miles per day to collect a bucket of dirty water.

But this isn’t about knocking charity and those who would hugely benefit from it. It’s about donating wise and donating smart. The only people who are killing charity are the charlatans who set out to make a profit in its name and who are killing charity brands with their appalling conduct.

If you are going to give regularly, do some research on your preferred causes and beneficiaries. You’d research a mobile phone supplier in the same way when considering payments monthly payments of a similar amount. Then just go online, get the details, and set up the payment order yourself. While there are always administrative costs, you’ll at least be keeping them to the essential minimum.

And maybe at the same time, the street collection chuggers will evaporate as quickly as willingness to engage with them will.

Not only will you be benefitting the charities, but you’ll be boosting a declining retail sector which will certainly become a more pleasant shopping environment for customers.

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